The first part of the 21st century has heralded a surge of interest in multigenerational travel. This is not just for fun and relaxation, but for the pleasure of exploring the world as a family and the joy of introducing a new generation to the natural world and the cultural diversity across the planet.
Tour operators and travelrelated nonprofit organizations have been successfully meeting the challenge of creating itineraries that stimulate the interests of two or three generations in equal measure. Many now advertise “family departures” of small-ship ocean expeditions, river cruises, or active land based explorations, all strategically built around school holidays. Hand-picked tour leaders deliver programs that engage children, youths and adults of different ages and abilities. And depending on the age of the child, there is often a price discount for the younger members.
The catalyst for meaningful multigenerational travel has been Baby Boomer grandparents, roughly 50 to early 70’s in age. As an influential age demographic, most have discretionary income, are healthy and physically fit, and give a high priority to travel. Trying to accommodate the limited time and particular interests of three generations can be frustrating, so the ever-creative Boomers have begun skipping the middle generation, and discovering the rewards of planning the next great family adventure with grandchildren of a suitable age. Is there any good reason why white water rafting on Oregon’s Rogue River, a small-ship expedition to Ecuador’s unique Galapagos Islands, tracking polar bears in the Canadian Arctic, or spotting “the Big Five” on a Tanzanian safari, cannot be just as satisfying while leaving the parents at home? Apparently not!
ROW Adventures (rowadventures.com), based in Idaho, has long offered active family adventures that engage guests in activities from river rafting and voyageur canoeing in the U.S., to exploring the Galapagos Islands, to walking the Inca Trail in Peru.
“While none of our trips require the parents to stay at home, we have noticed an increasing number of grandchildren and grandparents traveling together without mom and dad,” says Candy Bening, USA Sales Manager for ROW Adventures. “A grandfather who has previously traveled with us, together with his adult children, is now bringing one grandchild at a time on a river trip when they turn 10! We’ve got a new family tradition here. Our Rogue River lodge-to-lodge trips are particularly popular with grandparents because they can sleep in a comfortable bedroom each night while still challenging their outdoor skills during the day.”
Ecuador-based smallship operator Ecoventura (ecoventura.com) also has decades of experience catering to multi-generational families aboard their three eco-friendly, 20-passenger motor yachts. Such low-impact numbers allow the company to visit fragile Galapagos Islands from which larger vessels are barred.
“Family departures are a big part of our overall business,” says Ecoventura’s Doris Welsh, director of Sales and Marketing. “On all departures throughout the year, children ages 12 and up are welcome, but designated family departures mean children as young as five can be accommodated. On their own, grandparents feel particularly comfortable sharing an expedition with their pre-teen, teen or college age grandchildren, and for each we offer designated departures. Our naturalists know how to balance physical activity on island field excursions and learning in a fun way back aboard ship.”
Kurt Kutay, founder of Wildland Adventures (wildland.com) 30 years ago, has been addressing this grandparent-grandchild travel trend for the past 10 years though “it’s burgeoning even more now as us Boomers continue to retire, our families grow, and we are considering how to spend time with loved ones in the most meaningful and lasting way. When planning these trips, there is almost always a central element of education and exposure to a world beyond life at home.”
“I hear grandparents say they want the new generation to understand other religions and cultures, or experience firsthand how much of the world lives with so much less. Traveling to Africa to view the big game is astonishing and exciting, but often what becomes more moving and meaningful is going on a hunt with local bushmen carrying bow and arrows, or stalking wildlife on a bush walk with a Maasai warrior.”
Another veteran of conservation travel has plenty of family adventures in its catalogue. Natural Habitat Adventures (nathab.com) is offering a new Canadian Arctic wildlife and cultural immersion in November limited to 17 guests. “This itinerary is ideal for grandparents and grandchildren,” explains founder and president, Ben Bressler, “because much of the outdoor activity each day is on traditional dog sleds exploring boreal forests, up in a helicopter, or searching the tundra on a polar rover spotting wildlife such as polar bears, foxes, Arctic hare and snowy owls.”
If a grandparent has had limited personal connection with a grandchild or if the grandchild is still quite young, many seasoned travelers recommend starting with a short age-appropriate trip not too far from home. For example, respected Sierra Club Outings (http://content.sierraclub.org/outings/trip-people/family) has just the test-run holiday with an inexpensive six-day “Just for Grandparents and Grandkids” (all-inclusive USD $795 per adult/USD $695 per child for ages 6 and up). The base is Sierra Club’s own rustic lodge in California’s Tahoe National Park where the two generations get to develop a love for the great outdoors through many planned activities both day and evenings.
Does the name Elderhostel ring a bell? Established in 1975 as a nonprofit lifelong learning organization for travelers age 55 and up, more than four million adults had taken Elderhostel Travel Tours before the program name was changed to Road Scholar (roadscholar.org) in 2010. Grandparents are guaranteed to find an affordable, stimulating holiday to share with grandchildren of every age among its current roster of 162 intergenerational programs, offered in 150 countries and aboard ships on rivers and oceans worldwide.
A Road Scholar (RS) client poll indicates that 66% of grandparents have traveled with their grandchildren at some time, while 22% of grandparents have traveled with just their grandchildren in the past year. Seventy percent of these intergenerational travelers report that the children helped with travel planning. Engaging a grandchild in the planning process can provide a reason to get together or talk by phone or Skype before the shared trip.
Sometimes anticipated benefits reap unexpectedly swift results. Reports Morag Prosser of ROW Adventures, “Last year I was on a Salmon River Canyons rafting trip with two grandparents and their 12-year-old granddaughter. The grandparents couldn’t believe how this timid, sociallywithdrawn granddaughter blossomed from day one, bonding quickly with other kids and adults, trying everything that was offered, relaxed and a real pleasure to be around. To see her flourish in a place that was so far out of her comfort zone was their ultimate reward.”
The biggest trend in family travel will likely remain three generations, especially when the grandkids are young. However, there is general agreement that travel takes on a different dynamic when the parents aren’t there. Plan well and give it a try!